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The Zakim Bridge

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge is the widest cable-stayed bridge in the world and the first in the United States. At 1,432 feet long, it emerges from the underground Central Artery. Ten lanes of traffic cross the Charles River from Boston to Charlestown, and points north on Interstate 93. Its unique, asymmetrical, hybrid design was built to withstand winds of over 400 miles per hour and 7.9 magnitude earthquake.

Known as The Zakim, A Bridge For Lenny, the bridge is named after civil rights activist Lenny Zakim who championed "building bridges between peoples" and the American colonists who fought the British in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

At the 2002 bridge dedication, Joyce Zakim, wife of activist Lenny Zakim stated,

"Lenny lived by the belief that each of us has a moral responsibility to make the world a better, more inclusive and respectful place for all people. He worked tirelessly to build personal bridges between our city's diverse people and neighborhoods. He would be so proud to know that this magnificent structure will stand as a symbol of unity, hope, and respect for all Bostonians."

Looking up at the tower

Photo by Suzanne Niles, Opening Day, October 6, 2002

The two 270 foot towers link the past and future of Boston. The inverted Y-shaped towers reflect the shape of the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, which marks the location of one of the first major battles of the American Revolution. The cables extending from the two towers form massive triangles, emulating the appearance of ships' sails as a reminder of Boston as a shipbuilding center throughout American history. They are a tribute to the USS Constitution, a leading ship of the War of 1812 and built in Boston Harbor.

Large diamond-shaped holes were cut into the deck of the bridge to allow daylight to filter down to the water below. The holes were integrated into the design so the alewife fish migrating up the river would not lose their way in the shadows created by the bridge.

The bridge can be lit with any multitude of colors. Generally lit blue, it could be green for the Celtics, gold for the Bruins, red for the Red Sox, rainbow colors for Gay Pride, or any color representing health awareness months or recognition of community philanthropic events.

Swiss bridge designer Christian Menn conceived the bridge with inverted Y-shaped towers to mimic the shape of the Bunker Hill Monument. Boston architect Miguel Rosales worked with Christian Menn and was the lead architect and urban designer for the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge.  The design was engineered by American civil engineer Ruchu Hsu with Bechtel Parson Brinckerhoff. The bridge replaced a deteriorating six lane double-deck bridge.


The Central Artery Project developed 40 acres of new park land, specifically in Charlestown and Cambridge, reviving the desolate riverbanks below and under the shadows of the upper and lower decks of the old bridge. Well before it opened, the bridge was seen as a spectacular new landmark gateway to downtown Boston. It is now a Boston icon. The public event to walk across the Zakim Bridge for its opening in 2002 exceeded expectations.

Lit with bright blue light, the Zakim Bridge is an instantly recognizable feature of the city skyline. In an interview with The Boston Globe, Miguel Rosales said, "The bridge is supposed to have the feel of a regal entry to Boston, the towers bathed in blue, the cables highlighted in gleaming white."

Zakim Bridge at night

Photo by Bill Damon - Flickr: Zakim Bridge from Museum of Science Roof - 2014-02-09,CC BY 2.0,

The Greenway

Zakim bridge under construction

Above: The Zakim Bridge under construction.

Left: On a tour of the bridge with friends wearing the required hard hats and work boots. 

The depression of the Central Artery, "The Highway of the Skies," left 17 acres of open space above, giving way to the creation of The Rose Kennedy Greenway, a joint effort between the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the City of Boston, and a number of civic groups. The Greenway stretches a mile and a half along prime real estate reconnecting the city from the Bulfinch Triangle through the North End, Wharf District, Financial District, finally making its way to Chinatown. Strolling through The Greenway, one discovers numerous and distinct fountains, manicured gardens, expansive plazas, open green spaces, and permanent and temporary art installations. The parks are unique in character and spatial composition. They include Chinatown Park, Dewey Square, Fort Point Channel Parks, Wharf District Parks, Armenian Heritage Park, and North End Parks.

The history of The Greenway goes back to the 1940s with the increasing number of vehicles on the city streets. Looking for a way to alleviate traffic and congestion in downtown Boston, city officials decided to build an elevated highway cutting through the heart of Boston. As a result, more than 1,000 buildings were demolished, with approximately 10,000 residents displaced. Construction of the Central Artery began in 1951 and was completed in 1959. Painted a matte green, former Boston mayor Tom Menino called the Central Artery "the other green monster," referring to the green wall at Fenway Park.


Realizing the design flaws and limitations of the Central Artery on the city for future development, a new plan was devised to move the elevated highway underground. Construction of the new Central Artery/Tunnel Project, affectionately known as the Big Dig, began in 1991. After years of construction, delays, and cost overruns, the nation's most complex and costliest highway project opened in 2007. It freed up the much-needed open space, revitalized neighborhoods, and reunited the city once divided by the green monster.

Downtown Boston Central Artery cutting through the city

Downtown Boston. Central Artery, pre Big Dig

Downtown Boston, Central Artery Tunnel Project Rose Kennedy Greenway

Downtown Boston. Central Artery/Tunnel Project, post Big Dig

The Greenway Conservancy is an independently incorporated non-profit organization established in 2004. In 2008, the State Legislature confirmed the Conservancy as the designated steward of The Greenway. It officially opened to the public in October 2008 with tens of thousands of visitors who joined in the park’s inaugural celebration. In February 2009, the Greenway Conservancy assumed operational responsibility for the park.

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